Customer Service Focus
Tips for handling frequent callers, constant shoppers and more
In the insurance industry, we sometimes encounter difficult clients—those that require more effort and due diligence on our part. Here are some techniques to make these more complex encounters easier to manage.
Some clients like to treat the possibility of policy reinstatement as a new billing option. Forgetting to pay a premium may happen occasionally, but once it becomes a pattern it should be addressed. Approach this by explaining to the client the importance of their account history. Keeping their account history as blemish-free as possible benefits them in the long run.
Make sure they understand that it can be a major factor in the consideration of renewals, reinstatements, and even when being placed elsewhere as new business. They need to be aware that reinstatements are never guaranteed and that taking such a risk with the protection of their personal property is not wise.
Insist on payment plans such as annual pay or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to allow installments to be deducted from the bank account of their choice automatically.
It’s their decision
From time to time, I’ve been given the duty of informing a client that work needs to be completed on their property in order for it to remain eligible for coverage. The work that may be required can range from inexpensive to expensive repairs. For example, the requirements may be as simple as fixing peeling paint, removing debris, or repairing a broken window. On the other hand, the carrier’s request can be costlier, such as replacing an entire roof or missing siding on a structure, fixing cracked steps, adding railing to a deck, or removing tree branches overhanging a roof.
Generally, discussions around these issues go one of two ways: They agree and complete everything by the deadline provided or they decide to be non-compliant, choosing to dispute the validity of the carrier’s concerns.
It is important to remind the client that you are their agent. This helps them become less defensive and actually listen to what you have to say. Most times the carrier’s concerns tend to be minor and the client can get extensions. However, clients need to show that they are actively trying to address the issues by letting us know their progress or the lack of it and why. This helps us to be the best advocates for them when speaking with our underwriters.
Some clients may simply disagree on the importance and opt to ignore the matter, expecting it to go away. It is important to respectfully relay to them the fact that recommendations must be completed to remain eligible for proper coverage. They may threaten to go elsewhere, not realizing that they are possibly setting themselves up for disappointment, denied claims, and/or extremely high premiums. The recommendations that one highly-rated carrier has will generally be the same with another.
After the client is properly informed, keep in mind that it is ultimately their decision to make.
Save me money
Difficult clients, especially those who like to shop their account every single year, can make us feel stressed or overwhelmed. Not wanting to pay an arm and a leg for insurance is understandable. However, clients tend to compare their policies to their neighbors’ or to what their premiums were prior to claims.
For some reason, they are under the impression that insurance companies and carriers are out to get their money and assume that any type of increase is unjustified.
Policy premiums increase by a small amount because of inflation or rate increases; point out that small increases are normal and there is no need to switch insurance companies every year. Loyalty to carriers has recently begun to impact premiums. Some carriers provide additional discounts to new clients who were with their prior carrier for a number of years. With that in mind, it benefits insureds not to hop from carrier to carrier every year, and they should be made aware of this.
Also, when a client has been with a carrier for a while, they tend to forget the perks of that particular carrier. For example, their provider may have the ability to provide one policy and one bill for their home, auto, and umbrella, while other carriers may not be able to do this. This may be a convenience that they do not want to give up.
Some carriers provide discounts for occupations, automatically include earthquake coverage, provide more accommodating guidelines for youthful drivers, operate on HO-5 policy forms, and even provide cash-out options. These “perks” are not a guarantee with every carrier. Remind clients of these perks which can often make their decision easier. Also ask for updating information that may qualify them for discounts for which they were not previously eligible.
Despite these approaches, some clients still insist on seeing what else is out there. Schedule a review of their account prior to their expected inquiry. This allows you to have your own working time frame. It also enables you to have options or an explanation based on a diligent review done on their behalf when they do call. This approach helps build the client’s trust in you as their agent.
The frequent caller
Being in a customer service-based profession leaves us at the mercy of several personality types. We soothe the chronic worriers, silence the debaters, and provide clarity for the confused. I have received the brunt of misplaced anger, dealt with constant callers, and have had the pleasure of being micro-managed.
While these interactions can be overwhelming, initially, it helps to view the situation from their perspective. I doubt anyone genuinely delights in being ignored or being left in the dark about matters they deem as important. So, in consideration of this, it is a more effective remedy to work with them and amp up the communication with these clients.
A prompt response goes a long way. Let the client know you acknowledge their concern and are actively working to address it. It reduces their anxiety and, believe it or not, it may do the same for you. To decrease the number of phone calls you may receive, give them a time frame in which you will contact them. No one knows your schedule better than you do. You also know how long it will take to handle their concerns. By setting these time frame boundaries, interruptions are fewer and they help keep you on task, as well.
If, for any reason, you cannot adhere to the time frame you stated, call them anyway. Lack of communication can lead to frustration or anger. Reaching out to them first and keeping them in the loop holds those types of negative emotions at bay. Again, these actions help build much needed trust.
Not so bad after all
Difficult clients may take more time, but they are important clients nonetheless. They depend on us to service their accounts, advise them, and advocate for them when necessary. A cookie-cutter approach will not work, nor should it. Taking the extra time to communicate can make your most difficult clients some of your favorites.
Maegan N. Jackson, CISR, is a personal lines agent at Georgetown Insurance Service, Inc., in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was named 2015 Maryland CSR of the Year by the National Alliance for Insurance Educati